NEW DELHI :
Diplomats from 15 countries, including the US, South Korea, Bangladesh and Vietnam, met a cross section of people, including political leaders and civil society groups, in Srinagar on Thursday during a visit aimed at allowing the international community a first-hand assessment of efforts taken by the Indian government to normalize the situation in Kashmir.
The two-day visit is the first by diplomats based in New Delhi and comes almost six months after the Indian Parliament revoked the special status granted to Kashmir under a provision of its Constitution, and integrated the region more closely with the rest of the country.
The Indian government aims to blunt criticism from arch rival Pakistan, as well as some sections in the US, that New Delhi has violated human rights by cutting off communication in the region and for keeping political leaders under detention. In August, New Delhi had placed restrictions on communication and detained political leaders, but many curbs have since then been lifted.
More visits could be organized if the security situation in the region remained conducive, Indian foreign ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar said.
US ambassador to India Kenneth Juster was in the group, which included diplomats from South Korea, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Fiji, the Maldives, Norway, the Philippines, Peru, Morocco, Argentina, Niger, Nigeria, Guyana and Togo. On Thursday, the group met security personnel, political leaders, representatives of the civil society, and the media, Kumar added.
Opposition parties, however, criticized the visit. “We have no objection to the visit of the envoys. Our objection is that when our parliamentarians are prohibited from going to Jammu and Kashmir, what is the meaning of taking ambassadors?... these are double standards adopted by the government," senior Congress leader and former Union minister Jairam Ramesh said on Thursday.
“The objective of the visit is for the envoys to see the efforts being made by the government to bring the situation to normal and see first-hand the impact of a series of steps taken by the local administration to normalize the situation in recent weeks. The programme was drawn up keeping in mind the threat posed by terrorism and taking adequate precautions for security," Kumar said.